Yanks win pennant on homer

Boone's leadoff shot in 11th extends N.Y.'s mystique, Red Sox's curse, 6-5

Martinez blows 3-run lead in 8th

Wakefield gives up HR to slumping infielder

N.Y. vs. Florida tomorrow

League Championship Series

October 17, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Winning last night didn't just mean keeping a season active and making sure baseball's highest payroll churned for at least four more games.

To the New York Yankees, it also was about taking special care of a curse that once again had the strength to wrap itself around their most hated rival.

Will it ever let go? Five outs away from being eliminated, the Yankees overcame a three-run deficit in the eighth inning and got a leadoff home run from Aaron Boone in the 11th to defeat the Boston Red Sox, 6-5, in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees and Florida Marlins will begin the World Series tomorrow in New York. No problem guessing which team will have the fresher pitching staff.

New York won its 39th pennant and is seeking its 27th championship, all of them coming after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth in January 1920. The Yankees haven't won it all since 2000, which constitutes a dry spell in the Bronx.

It also presented a challenge last night that Boone, of all people, responded to against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Boone was batting for the only time in the game, a 2-for-16 slump moving him to the bench. He entered the game after pinch-running for Ruben Sierra in the eighth, and jumped on the first pitch from Wakefield, who won twice as a starter in the series and retired the side in the 10th.

"I put my defensive guy out there and he hits a home run," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "To come here and beat our rival like we did, it couldn't be more satisfying. This has to be the sweetest taste of all for me."

As the ball arced toward the left-field seats, Boone raised both arms and kept running to first base. Winning pitcher Mariano Rivera, who didn't allow a run in his first three-inning appearance since Sept. 6, 1996, and was named Most Valuable Player, rushed to the mound that Wakefield vacated and sprawled across it.

"Wow. I can't even talk," said Boone, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds before the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of July. "It's unbelievable. So many heroes today. Unbelievable. This is awesome. Like Derek [Jeter] told me, `The ghosts will show up eventually.'"

Wakefield's eyes were red and moist as reporters crowded around his locker after he allowed the 29th walk-off home run in postseason history, the fifth to end a series and the first to end a League Championship Series.

"I feel like I let everybody down," he said. "But every one of the guys in this clubhouse left everything on that field. We had a great year. I know it's a cliche, but we have a lot to be proud of."

In Red Sox Nation, there's still only frustration and disappointment.

They've been steady companions.

"It's heartbreaking because it's the end for these guys," general manager Theo Epstein said. "This group is special and it deserves better."

The Red Sox drove Roger Clemens from the game in the fourth inning, leaving Pedro Martinez to carry out their historic matchup alone in Yankee Stadium's first Game 7 in 46 years.

He led 5-2 going into the eighth, but the Yankees scored three runs before manager Grady Little removed him with the pitch count at 123.

Jorge Posada's two-run double tied the score, and the Yankees were doing more than just breathing. They were sucking the life out of the Red Sox's season.

A double by Jeter and single by Bernie Williams with one out had reduced Boston's lead to 5-3. Little stayed with Martinez after visiting the mound, and Hideki Matsui lined a double down the right-field line, with Williams stopping at third because a fan touched the ball.

Posada broke his bat while looping a 2-2 pitch into center, and Little finally called upon left-hander Alan Embree, who retired Jason Giambi after the slugger, dropped to seventh in the batting order for the first time since July 1999, homered twice off Martinez.

"Pedro Martinez has been our man all year long," Little said, "and in situations like that, he's the one we want on the mound over anybody we can bring in out of that bullpen."

Trot Nixon hit a two-run homer off Clemens in the second inning, and Kevin Millar led off the fourth with a bases-empty shot. Former Oriole Mike Mussina removed his jacket and began to warm in the bullpen, poised to make his first career relief appearance after 400 starts.

It came two batters later after Bill Mueller poked a hit-and-run single behind Jeter. The crowd gave Clemens a loud ovation as Torre left the dugout to make the change. Clemens stared at the ground with each step toward the bench, never once lifting his head.

A loss would have ended Clemens' career, since he still plans to retire. He won Game 7 of the 1986 ALCS for the Red Sox, but they weren't in a sentimental mood last night.

Inheriting two runners with none out, Mussina struck out Jason Varitek and got Johnny Damon to ground into a double play. Mussina gave the Yankees three scoreless innings and a chance to rally.

"The guy who stopped the bleeding was Mike Mussina," Torre said.

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